Does Fort Wayne Have a Gang Problem?

By Megan Trent

November 1, 2010 Updated Nov 1, 2010 at 6:44 PM EDT

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (Indiana's NewsCenter) - The Summit City may not fall prey to turf wars like many other large cities, but police say the evolution of gangs is creating problems for them... and you.

"When I grew up here as a little girl, we could play on the street. We could ice skate in the street. We could leave the front doors open at night," says Kay P. Grove.

Grove grew up and still lives on the city's south side. It's a part of town where police say 47 shootings have already occurred since January 2010. Built in 1929, Grove's parents bought the home in 1931. After living in Virginia for several years as an adult, Grove returned to Fort Wayne, and to her childhood home, in the early 1990's.

"I'm not afraid, afraid, although I am much more cautious," Grove says.

Members of Fort Wayne Police Department's Gang Unit say it's not about territory anymore. It's about three things - money, drugs, and girls.

"There's been a trend. Instead of just using pistols, we've had several calls where assault rifles are being used now, which completely ups and ante," says Detective Robert Hollo of the Fort Wayne Police Department Gang Unit.

Hollo says another trend involves women making what police call "straw purchases."

"They'll go into the firearms stores and make the purchase for their boyfriends or whomever, and they are able to make the purchase because they have a clean record," says Hollo.

Hollo says many drug dealers have been forced underground, where they now use Facebook and MySpace for gang activities.

The Latino gangs and Biker gangs are still present, but police say Hybrid gangs are gaining popularity. Whoever has the drugs and money at the moment also has the power. They're less structured, have no hierarchy, and are harder to identify.

The Gang Unit partners with the Department of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms to focus on getting guns off the streets and filing an increasing number of federal charges that carry stiffer penalties.

For that to happen he says the unit invests a lot of time and energy into taking the big players off the streets.

Hollo says people would be surprised how many well-to-do kids are becoming "wannabe" gangsters.

"They're a big follower, and when it comes down to doing a crime, they don't tend to necessarily do it," he says.

Hollo says police understand people are afraid to come forward with information on crimes, but says an anonymous call could make all the difference.

For him, he says there is no better feeling than taking a gun off the street that could have been used for countless robberies and shootings down the road.

Grove says it's essential for community members to keep an eye for one another. She says if her neighbors notice that she hasn't been outside that day, they'll come by to check on her.

She says she still adheres to a saying that her mother used when she lived in the home several years ago. "When I'm afraid, I'll let you know and you can take me out," says says with a smile. "But I haven't gotten there yet and that's because of my neighbors."

It's people like Grove who are dedicated to making Fort Wayne communities safer, one friendly neighbor at a time.

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